Cued Up on Q2: Aaron Siegel, LIVE – WQXR

I am very excited to be the featured composer on this Sunday’s “Live” Q2 stream. Q2 is the invaluable online station of New York’s WQXR and a home for a lot of great new and adventuresome music. Listen to the stream at the link below.

Cued Up on Q2: Aaron Siegel, LIVE – WQXR.

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Not Necessarily New, Just This Year

"The Nose" directed by William Kentridge

With the end of the year fast approaching, here come the “Best Of” lists.  With them also comes the sense that so much of what inspired me this year, was not new this year at all.  Instead, for whatever reason, there were a number of things that I encountered this year for the first time, even though they have been around for many years (or, in the case of one of these items,  200 years). I recognize the risk of seeming very uncool by acknowledging that it has taken me this long to come upon some of these items (see item 2 below), but am mostly glad that I finally did.  Here are my top ten favorite encounters of the 2010 (in order of when I encountered them):

10.  The Interrogative Mood by Padget Powell.  This novel (?) is written completely in questions.  A conceptual coup, yes, but also a riveting read.  When I finished it, I had to go back read all of Mr. Powell’s other works just to figure out how he got to this place.  I will let you know when I figure it out.

9. The Nose by Dmitri Shostakovich and Directed by William Kentridge.  This little seen opera is a thrilling adaptation of Gogol’s short story by the same name.  The music was mostly interesting (can’t say I am a huge Shostakovich fan), but the staging was revelatory.  Kentridge made tremendous use of the Met Opera’s resources and created an inspired drawing book of political history.

8.  I Am Love by Luca Guadagnino with music by John Adams.  Speaking of opera, this film was as emotionally manipulative as the best Verdi.  But, in terms of a tonal palatte (visually, symbolically, musically and emotionally), this luscious film was completely engrossing.  I think I held my breath for hours afterwards.

7.  Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  I put off Mr. Foster Wallace’s ouevre when most of my peers read him in the late 90’s, but last year felt it was time to dig in. The essays and short works were enough to convince me to try my hand at this monster of a novel, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent four months of my life than engrossed in this lively, inspiring and devastating portrait of the human condition.

6.  Seventh Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven; performed by the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.  I enjoy Beethoven as much as any casual enthusiast, but until this captivating performance at Carnegie Hall’s opening night, I am not sure I can say that I have actually heard his music.  Now I know that, in the right hands, this music shimmers and trembles with as much power as anything out there.  Period.

"The Interrogative Mood" by Padgett Powell

5.  Selective Memory by Brian Rogers at the Chocolate Factory Theater.  If you haven’t been to this small “white-box” theater in Long Island City, go!  It is the definition of dedication to risky, engaging work.  As he has done with his previous work with live video, Brian Rogers asks that you embrace the images “on-stage”, both real and reproduced, with a thoughtful and playful sensibility.  With this piece, the payoff was enormous, and I left feeling both on my own and a part of something bigger than myself.

4.  Naldjorlak by Elian Radigue at Issue Project Room. This is music that takes before it gives, but over the long run (this performance was long and made time feel slower than normal) it changed my fundamental relationship to the world (pretty big stuff, right?).

3.  Too Hot to Handel at Carnegie Hall.  Granted, this was a performance I helped to produce, but it was also an awesome display of enthusiasm and skill by 200 high school singers who stole the show with their energy and dedication.

2.  Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young.  I am not sure how this  record slipped through my cracks, but I am so glad I know it now!  A sensitive-angry meditation on the frailty of life, this is a complete record from start to finish and even though it is clearly rocking, it also transcends genre with its immediacy.

1. “Gaucho” by Steely Dan.  The song more than the record, I heard this on a car radio late at night in the company of a good friend and suddenly felt appalled at the sound of every record I have ever heard before.  Yes, the lyrics are bizarro and macho (like a lot of the Steely Dan I know), but the groove is completely mesmerizing, the saxophone solo spot on and the sound!!  (did I mention how great the record sounds?)

Happy New Year!

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New Memorize the Sky LP – “CREEKS”

“Creeks” (Broken Research) is Memorize the Sky’s third full-length record and first studio effort since 2006’s “Memorize the Sky” on 482 Music which was hailed as “an allusive, relentlessly surprising disc” (WIRE). “In Former Times” (Clean Feed, 2008) documents the band’s performance at the Ulrichsberg Kaleidaphon in the summer of 2007 and was praised as “consistently rewarding, accumulating microscopic evolutions of sound” (signal to noise).

“Creeks” was recorded in Brooklyn, NY during the winter of 2008, and documents the trio continuing to explore their unique blend of textural improvisation and drone-based song forms. This time, the ensemble extends their instrumentation to include electronic manipulation of sounds as well as a farther range of the woodwind and percussion families. These experimentations led to a recording colored by dense percussion textures and ghostly flute ruminations; splintering bells and melodic echo chambers.

For more details about the upcoming record-release tour, visit:

memorizethesky.com

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Lost Ideas #2 – Jingle

Collage by Joseph Cornell

I was asked last year to quickly come up with a piece to share with a large mingling audience at a fundraiser event some friends were hosting. Having been working on some new texts for other projects, I thought I would experiment with the use of language appropriated from advertising. Advertisements play a convenient and poignant role in a lot of contemporary art (Cornell, Warhol, Prince among others), and the mystique of the advertising zeitgeist contributes to the popularity of Mad Men, which I have just started watching.

This proposed piece (it was never actually performed–due to a sick kid–mine) was to take snippets of written advertisements, or in some cases implied meanings from ads, and attach them to a single jingle bell on a bracelet-sized piece of yarn. Each attendee at the fundraiser would wear their jingle around with them for the evening, along with a single example of modern ad-speak. Here is a partial list of texts I might have used:

connect to your inner self
watch this
consider this ride
need a lawyer?
how about more school?
in case of a fire
cash back
take care of your feet
remain alert
report fraud
beware of bugs
perfect yourself
visit art
travel back in time
it will be fun
listen louder
compete
new shoes better
witness a fight
don’t leave

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Narrative and Politics

I have been spending most of the summer so far wading through David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” I am, at turns, overcome by the enormity of this book, its spellbinding intimacy and also maddened by DFW’s distractible and obsessive imagination. The sections of the book that I struggle most with are his satires of political history. They seem so blatantly devoid of any genuine character or frankness that I find them intriguing only because they are annoying.

This morning, though, I read one of these political satire sections and had quite a different experience. The section in question was a transcript of an absurdist puppet show from a film detailing the fictional transition in the US to “subsidized” time (I wish I could do a better job here, but bear with me). On the matter of a (again) fictionalized budget gap, the book’s government officials (Tine and Gentle in the following quote) point out a common political predicament:

TINE: Outflows required, inflows restricted, balance demanded.

GENTLE: The classic executive-branch Cerberus-horned dilemma. The thorn in the Achilles’ tendon of the democratic process.

Hmmph, I thought. What a particularly pointed insight on democracy here in the middle of a book ostensibly about addiction, depression and obsession. Of course, DFW’s analysis (however absurd its context) is striking today because it is being played out every hour in the political discourse of whether we should be spending more money to support a broad progressive vision (and adding to the deficit) or if we should be cutting the deficit (even if it means ending financial benefits to the unemployed and risking stagnation).

Rather than weigh in on which of these perspectives I am partial to, I am more interested in thinking about the relevancy of narrative (satirical or not) to politics. Writing in the mid-1990’s DFW was not referencing directly the political climate of 2010, but he was admittedly influenced by political reactions to previous moments of progressive expansion, notably during the FDR and JFK administrations of the 1930’s and 60’s respectively. Not to mention, these issues must have been in the aether during the Clinton years of “Infinite Jest’s” milieu.

But these historical cycles are not, by themselves, interesting enough to be elucidating. Instead, it took the handiwork of the fiction writer–the artist–to reveal, through his imaginary narrative, the absurd reduction of political perspectives. In this case, DFW’s narrative is a satire, but there are other examples (Picasso’s Guernica sticks out to me) of frank and literal representations that, while of their own time, are also timeless. Guernica is politically ambiguous as it is both a warning and a reflection of violence. Narrative gestures are remarkable for this reason–whether or not an artist intends it, his representations contain the stories (political or otherwise) of a wide history and future.

Recent Sightings

Photos and audio are in from the June 3, 2010 performance of Preparing the Past at Issue Project room.

Audio is downloadable and streaming at the Free Music Archive.

Pictures c. 2010, Robert Pottinger.

Preparing the Past – June 3 at Issue Project

Thursday June 3, 2010
9:00 pm

Issue Project Room
232 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Don’t miss the premiere performance of the complete Preparing the Past, for 4-hand piano, 2 vibraphones and 2 glockenspiels featuring Emily Manzo, Anna Dagmar and Mantra Percussion (Al Cerulo, Joe Bergen, Mike McCurdy and Chris Graham).

Also, Christy Edwards will be sharing live video made specially for this performance. The above image is a still from one of the videos.

For more information on Preparing the Past click here.

Performing Occupation

I was in Vancouver, BC a couple of weeks ago for two concerts with Anthony Braxton, the second being an 8-hour “sonic genome” event that brought together over 60 musicians from the Vancouver area as well as a core group of the 12(+1)tet. Over the course of the day of performance, all of these musicians played Braxton’s music intermittently in one of three different large rooms in countless configurations.

This was an interesting experiment in community building (something of a interest for me lately), but what I was most interested in was something that Anthony introduced for the first time: battle-plan modeling. Without getting into the specifics, he asked all of the core group members to model our activities using G.I. Joe action figures before we went out and actually commenced these activities in the real world performance space.

This quasi-militarized activity made me think about the different kinds of identities that artist’s perform as they seek to connect with occupations other than their own. Sol Lewitt is another artist whose work depends upon his role as a “general” of an army of assistants, as does Jeff Koons and any number of other contemporary artists (not to mention countless old masters who relied heavily on their students to complete their work).

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen

In addition to the “General” or “Organizer” occupation, “Scientist” was a performed identity made prevalent during the post-war avant garde, mostly acutely observed in Karlheinz Stockhausen and his cadre of musicians in black suits and lab coats as well as musique concrete innovator, Pierre Schafer. This occupational connection seemed to be both an aesthetic decision as well as a practical one. In as much as these artists were pursuing pure research into sound, they were also aligned with government-run “laboratories” funded in part by post-war reparations.

And then there are the artists who perform the identity of the “Aesthetic” or “Monk.” Into this category I might clump light artist, James Turrell, composer Morton Feldman, and earthwork pioneer Robert Smithson. For these artists, the performance of intuition and simplicity created an aura of impenetrability.

James Turrells Spread (2003)

James Turrell's "Spread" (2003)

For these examples of performed identities and for other performances of “Businessman” (see Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol) and “Shaman” (see John Cage) among others, the artists assume the identity of “other” in order to accentuate the divide between the arts and other professional pursuits (This divide presumably frames an artist’s counterculture tendencies). I also think that these performances are in no way meant to be permanent. Instead, the individual might assume a series of occupational identities as they react to and comment on the zeitgeist.

This gets me wondering about what current occupations artists might perform as they seek to define their work in contrast to societal norms within the twenty-first century. Returning to the example of Anthony Braxton, one occupation that contrasts with the contemporary artist is the Military commander. Certainly Braxton’s performance directions says something about our militarized culture. Are there other occupational performances are out there that would mark similar trends?

An End in Site

One of the items I have seen most frequently on this year’s “best-of-the-decade” lists is the iPod. Mp3 players are so ubiquitous now it’s hard to believe they have only been around for 9 years . When we look at the cultural impact of this device though, the mp3 era is really the end of a long curve of mobile personal audio devices that started back in the 80’s with the Sony Walkman.

JENA WALK (MEMORY FIELD) | 2006

JENA WALK (MEMORY FIELD) | 2006 by Janet Cardiff

There are a number of very interesting academic articles about the impact of mass produced mobile audio devices on how we construct our worlds. Mostly, these texts describe the trends in usage of mp3 devices (or walkmen) by consumers who are free to curate their own aural surroundings. There are also inquiries into the differentiation between public and private spheres as defined by shared or isolated sounds.

Besides these analyses that highlight the iPods effects in terms of media and digital cultures, iPods may have also played a role in changing our relationships to live, non-mobile and decidedly acoustic music. I am speaking here in response to the number of articles about how the music business has been forced to rely more seriously on live performances as their main revenue stream since record sales are disastrously low. But I am also referring to the continuous buzz about venue-crossing, including how classical music is becoming cool again by playing to new audiences in (gasp) clubs around the country.

I have been privy first hand to these venue-crossing experiments and can say that they are indeed very exciting. But this is no new trend, either. Jazz and Improvising musicians have been bringing their experimental and avant garde music to cabaret spots and night clubs for decades and ever since the Beatles played Carnegie Hall rock bands with experimental tendencies have found their way onto stages otherwise graced only by those in tuxedos.

Anthony Braxton at the Teatro Metastasio, Prato, Italy

Anthony Braxton in concert

There is an argument to be made, though, that as the iPod has made it easier to listen to whatever we like, where ever we like, our understanding of the relationship between music/sound and site has been shifted dramatically. We no longer associate a specific genre of music or artist with a specific performance environment, because we don’t look for the physical space to dictate sounds. Instead, we look to ourselves and our own personal tastes for curatorial decisions. These decisions may be ironic, or simply novel, but they are always our own.

With this shift in mind, it is straightforward to see how venue curators, or artistic directors are really just giving their audiences what they want – some of the same surprising juxtapositions they are accustomed to as iPod listeners. This practice raises the question of what will happen after the novelty of this trend wears off? Will listeners yearn for the authentic experience of chamber music in concert halls and indie-rock in grimy basements?

More interesting, though, is the question of the role this trend will play in the creation of the next generation of works to be consumed by the concert-going public. Already we have seen composers and musicians altering their work to fit in with the assumed identity of a given performance space. Will the new, novel space become the new “site” of their work, or will artists look to maintain the tension between work and site and continue to offer up odd and genre-defying perspectives?

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Tuesday December 15th –
Science is Only a Sometimes Friend

Science_Issue copy

Tuesday December 15th
8:00 PM

featuring Joe Bergen, Al Cerulo, Levy Lorenzo,
Russell Greenberg, Sam Sowyrda, Mike McCurdy,
Justin Wolf and Mike Pride

Issue Project Room
At the Old American Can Factory
232 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY

Hope you can make it!!